Data Science student discovers his passion for health at a business case competition

May 31, 2022

Sometimes all it takes is a chance experience to discover what you’re passionate about. Data Science Honours student Zihan Wang is graduating this June with an exceptional GPA and an offer to Harvard Medical School’s Master of Biomedical Informatics program, an outcome he never imagined before coming to university.

“In hindsight, my first two years at SFU were perhaps the most tedious I can ever think of,” Wang says, “I literally spent most of my time studying for my GPA.” It wasn’t until he started to seek out opportunities outside the classroom that he learned that he could use his skills to improve the lives of the people around him.

He began his SFU journey as a business student at Fraser International College. “If someone had asked me about my dream job when I started, I would probably have said that I aspired to be a successful entrepreneur,” he says. He started participating in case competitions to help develop the data modeling, problem solving and communication skills he would need for his future career.

But a case competition in global health caused Wang to re-evaluate his goals. By chance, Wang participated in a project in a three-person team during his second year, providing recommendations for a real-world healthcare management system. His team won a bronze with a successful lift-chart model and elevator pitch.

The experience revealed that he could use interdisciplinary knowledge to interpret data and find solutions to real-world problems in health. From there, he began to seek out research projects about biomedical applications, which eventually led him towards a Co-op position at the Centre for Heart Lung Innovation at UBC and St. Paul’s Hospital.

Along the way he’s had the opportunity to work as a research assistant on a number of projects, including an honours research project with Dr. Martin Ester, building an interactive visualization tool that helps elucidate how different artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms work. He not only had the chance to present his first-author paper at a computing science conference workshop, he also got hands-on experience in science research in a supportive and collaborative environment.

He's also worked as a teaching assistant and volunteered with the SFU Love Your Neighbour Club to teach English to seniors and math to elementary school students. “Being involved in those volunteering activities taught me how to advocate for the causes that I am deeply passionate about and how to bring my effect outside of class,” he says.

“While my academics gave me a strong foundation in data science, it was the volunteering, mentoring, and teaching opportunities that prepared me as a complete person.”